«Journey to the Safest Place on Earth»


Creative Documentary by Edgar Hagen, 100 Minutes, in Coproduction with Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen SRF/SRG/SSR

DCP, 100/52 Minuten, Farbe, 16:9

World Sales: Autlook Filmsales

Film-Website: http://diereisezumsicherstenortdererde.ch

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DieReiseZumSicherstenOrtDerErde/



Over the last 60 years, more than 350,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste has been amassed the world over. This material must be deposited for thousands of years in a safe place, i.e. one that will not harm humans or the environment. However, such a repository has yet to be created and the production of nuclear waste continues unabated. Swiss-based nuclear physicist and internationally renowned repository specialist Charles McCombie and some of his most important allies provide director Edgar Hagen with insight into their persistent struggle to find the safest place on earth in order to resolve this grave dilemma.
On this quest, the film travels the world, encountering a diverse range of people and places – including a heavily populated area in Switzerland, a nomadic family in the Chinese Gobi Desert, a sacred mountain in an Indian reserve contaminated by nuclear waste and demonstrators in Gorleben’s forest in Germany. The film witnesses the secret arrival of a nuclear waste cargo ship in Japan and observes volunteer communities in the UK at a meeting on nuclear waste disposal. In all of these places, reason, democracy and scientific integrity are put to the test by practical constraints, strategies and fears. The film pinpoints a number of appealing options: a mayor in New Mexico is prepared to store the most dangerous substance on earth in his community for large sums of money. Scientists investigate a vast, flat area in the Western Australian outback that could potentially be used as a repository for high-level nuclear waste from across the globe. Edgar Hagen’s film raises a huge range of questions about how we are dealing with the situation today and our responsibility to future generations. If there is no other choice, is it possible to force through such a project against the wishes of local residents and, if so, is this a wise solution?
JOURNEY TO THE SAFEST PLACE ON EARTH is a divisive undertaking, leading us to the ends of the earth. Over the course of the film, it becomes clear that there is no quick fix to this conflict. JOURNEY TO THE SAFEST PLACE ON EARTH throws doubt on our established views of the world and takes us to the limits of knowledge and social responsibility.


Festivals / Awards

EKOFILM Festival, December 2015, Brno/Czech Republic
BIFED Bozcaada International Festival of Ecological Documentary, October 2015, Bozcaada/Turkey
International Festival of Film and Urbanism "86", April/May 2015, Slavutych/Ukraine
Environmental Filmfest, March 2015, Washington DC, USA
Verzio International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, November 2014, Budapest/Hungary
CPH:DOX, November 2015, Copenhagen/Denmark
FICMA Barcelona Environmental International Film Festival, November 2014, Barcelona/Spain
Nuclear Free Future Award, October 2014, Munich/Germany
Das Filmfest, October 2014, Prag & Brno/Czech Republic
Prix Italia, September 2014, Torino/Italy
Marda Loop Justice Film Festival, September 2014, Calgary/Canada
DokuFest Prizren, August 2014, Prizren/Kosovo
Fünf Seen Film Festival, July/August 2014, Fünf-Seen-Land/Germany
ZOOM - Basler Filme im Fokus, June 2014, Basel/Switzerland
International Uranium Film Festival, May 2014, Rio de Janeiro/Brasil
Planete + Doc Film Festival, May 2014, Warschau/Poland
Green Film Festival, May 2014, Seoul/Korea
DOXA Documentary Film Festival, May 2014, Vancouver/Canada
3a Mostra Ecofalante de Cinema Ambiental, March 2014. Sao Paolo/Brasil
Thessaloniki Documentary Festival, March 2014, Thessaloniki/Greece
DocPoint - Helsinki Documentary Film Festival, January 2014, Helsinki/Finnland
FIPA Biarritz, January 2014, Biarritz/France
Solothurner Filmtage, January 2014, Solothurn/Switzerland
Filmfestival DOK Leipzig, October 2013, Leipzig/Germany
Hofer Filmtage, October 2013, Hof/Germany


Cinema / DVD


Worldsales: Autlook

Distribution Switzerland: Look Now

Distribution Germany: W Film

Distribution Austria: Thimfilm



>>TV- and Radio

>>Articles & Quotes



>>Directors Note

Ever since atomic energy was first used for commercial purposes in 1956, we have been faced with a dilemma: we produce “clean energy” but create the most dangerous by-product ever in the process. This high-level nuclear waste will pose a threat for hundreds of thousands of years. There are currently 350,000 tons worldwide – with a further 10,000 produced each year. The waste is placed in interim storage, in cooling ponds and in interim storage sites around the globe. If something were to trigger an uncontrolled chain reaction like an atomic bomb, the world would be engulfed in unimaginable chaos. The nuclear disaster in Fukushima in March 2011 was only a small glimpse of what could happen.

In order to escape this dilemma, all of the atomic energy producing countries have adopted the same political strategy: finding suitable places for deep geological repositories. Locating sites to rid future generations of this threat for all eternity. Such a site can only be the safest place on earth. Many countries across the world have spent decades searching for suitable locations and conducting scientific research, yet plans for potential sites have been rejected time and again.

In the film I embark on a journey examining the complex process of searching for the safest place on earth. It focuses on the people who have made it their goal to solve this problem for us, portraying their efforts, worries, battles, hopes and failures. The main protagonist, Charles McCombie, has never once lost faith and has played a leading role in the worldwide search for the safest repository site for the last 35 years. In the film he allows us an exclusive glimpse behind doors to places that are normally inaccessible to the public. On this journey, he encounters allies and some of his fiercest opponents.

The film explores the various levels of our deeply rooted collective denial. In spite of spending many decades searching for and failing to find suitable sites, we continue to produce high-level nuclear waste. With an almost religious zeal, we believe that everything will fall into place at some point in the future. Denial of this problem is worsened by the fact that radioactive material is already locked away in interim storage for safety reasons: in off-limits sites away from the public eye. Gaining access to these locations is subject to extremely strict conditions. The most difficult part of this journey involved getting images of this dangerous material. The film was one long struggle to get a glimpse of the waste. In the midst of this struggle, the idea dawned on me that we can only find the safest place if we collectively manage to defy the pressure of extreme economic constraints, do not blindly believe everything we are told and wrongly assume that statements are absolute scientific truths.

The film travels to the ends of the earth in its quest to find answers.

Edgar Hagen


>>Edgar Hagen - Biography

Edgar Hagen was born in 1958 in Basel. He studied philosophy and German language and literature at the University of Basel and Berlin Free University, where he graduated with an MA in 1987, writing his final dissertation on general ethics. After spending several years as a journalist and a dramatic adviser in the theatre, he began to work as an independent filmmaker in 1989. In 2000 he began lecturing on cinematic and documentary storytelling. He has been a board member of the Swiss Filmmakers Association (ARF/FDS) since 2010 and became head of the documentary film directing department at FOCAL, the Foundation for Professional Training in Cinema and Audiovisual Media) in 2013. He has two sons and lives in Basel.


>>Edgar Hagen - Filmography

2013     „Die Reise zum sichersten Ort der Erde / Journey to the Safest Place on Earth“, cinema documentary, script and directing

2007     „Someone Beside You“, cinema documentary, script and directing

2001     „Zeit der Titanen / Les Années des Titans“, cinema documentary, script and directing

1998     „Dorothea Buck – Vom Wahn zum Sinn“, TV documentary, script and directin

1996     „Markus Jura Suisse – Der verlorene Sohn / Le fils prodigue“, cinema documentary, script and

1994     „Gewitter im Gehirn“, TV documentary, script and directing

1993     „Faxenmacher“, TV documentary, script and directing

1991     „Kleine Lieben“, script and directing


>> Interview with the Director


Vadim Jendreyko: What motivated you to make a film about creating repositories for nuclear waste?

Edgar Hagen: Very few films have explored the various dimensions of the topic of atomic energy, even though it’s all around us. We are in a state of complete denial. The media reports on it all the time, but it’s such a vast issue and so closely intertwined with power that it always left me with this sense of po- werlessness. The key question for me was: how can I address this topic without feeling so powerless. We’re dealing with closed-off sites, time periods spanning hundreds of thousands of years, monitoring systems, the police and the military. The substances and the technology are far too dangerous to be freely accessible; they must be protected. It is a sealed-off, secret world in the midst of our society, not unlike a freemasons lodge. Is it even possible to have a normal conversation about it? Does it have any kind of human dimension and can I explore this topic in a film, faced with the knowledge of my own powerlessness? These were the thoughts going through my mind and the challenges I faced.

VJ: You’ve addressed being in a state of denial in other films. Is it also a key topic in this film?

EH: Yes. And I discovered that this state of denial is not a problem restricted to any particular country. People in very different countries with various political structures have very similar experiences and face the same dilemma. So I was looking for a figure who was up to the task of dealing with this in- ternational dimension – who would go to the ends of the earth to find a solution – and then I found Charles McCombie.

He actually takes a very pragmatic approach to finding a solution. The industry, the scientific com- munity and the political sphere expect this from him. He rises to the challenge: a country needs a repository? Okay, I’ll find you one. He researches how this can be done and then tries to prove that it’s possible. For me, this isn’t the ideal approach; it’s a pragmatic one. It has nothing to do with good and evil. He operates outside of the boundaries of good and evil because he does what he believes is necessary for society as a whole. This leads us to the following question: where will we end up if we simply continue going down this road?

I knew that I wasn’t interested in looking at outdated concepts, such as the idea of rocketing nuclear waste into space, or in scandalous procedures like those used in Russia, where huge amounts of high- level waste are temporarily stored in hair-raising conditions.
I wanted my film to focus on the most advanced and credible projects to deal with nuclear waste and Charles McCombie is an authoritative and high-profile representative of this type of repository.

VJ: What fascinates you about your film’s lead protagonist?

EH: The interesting thing is that we don’t belong to the same ideological camp. The first time we met, we agreed that we would treat each other with respect and not focus on our differing viewpoints. That also means that I have to respect his belief in this technology and this industry. He’s open to being confronted about his ideas and more than ready to “argue his point”.

VJ: Has he seen the film?

EH: Yes. He always said: “If I made a film, I would make it as controversial as possible.” That it was important to portray the controversies he’s embroiled in as part of his work. This is nothing new for him: he’s operated in this “conflict zone” for decades. He develops a repository project, tries to realise it and the project collapses because some unreasonable group or other – from the perspective of the industry – does something to prevent it. This means that McCombie and his projects have come up against countless obstacles. This is the reality of his work and he has no problem with the film portray- ing these obstacles.

VJ: Turning an exciting idea into a film is a long process. Can you describe how you put your idea into practice?

EH: It was a real challenge to tell the story from two perspectives: On the one hand, the official view- point of the industry and government and, on the other hand, the perspective of the opponents and critics of atomic energy. Most importantly, I had to know what I was talking about. This didn’t mean becoming a physicist, but I did need an in-depth knowledge of the various aspects of the problem. It’s a very complex field. I needed to meet and interview a lot of people. The challenge while shooting was gaining access to the sites we wanted to film. While we were researching the film in 2010, for examp- le, we were allowed into the reprocessing facility in Sellafield and did a test shoot. We managed to film there for two days, even if we weren’t allowed to see a lot of things. “For security reasons”, they told us. The cooling ponds, for example – vast cooling ponds containing spent nuclear fuel, some of them still out in the open air at Sellafield. When we wanted to come back to film in 2012 after the reactor disaster in Fukushima, everything was sealed off. They weren’t letting anyone in anymore. Another example is Nagra, the Swiss organisation for the disposal of radioactive waste. I tried to get in contact with them again and again, but was fobbed off every time. I wanted to visit Sweden and Finland with a group of parliamentarians. They withdrew my invitation twice.

VJ: Why do you think this is?

EH: The nuclear power industry in the West is really on the defensive. This isn’t the case in China at all: there’s a sense of a new nuclear era, just like there was here at the beginning of the seventies. Perhaps the Chinese thought we were some kind of propaganda organisation for the western nuclear power industry. At any rate, we found them relatively open and approachable and we were the first western film crew to be allowed to film on building sites and in the control room of a nuclear power plant and to travel to the planned location for the deep nuclear repository in the Gobi desert.

VJ: I noticed that there are barely any women in the entire film. Are these technologies and their con- sequences more of a man’s domain”?

EH: Yes, it’s not a film about women – it’s a film about men. It looks at a very male-dominated world, which evolved from the military sector. We’re dealing with a masculine form of power and now we have to address its legacy. If we look at the opponents of atomic energy, we get a different picture of a much broader spectrum of society. While making the film, my sole focus was the debate and at the end I was a little shocked to realise that it only featured men. Our approach to nuclear technology today clearly requires a masculine mindset. Women are able to adapt to this, of course, but ultimately it is more typically male.

But it’s important for all of us to understand the trouble that this particular type of masculine behavi- our has got us into. I find it interesting to watch these men now and observe how they deal with this manmade situation. If you focus on a particular way of thinking, you also reveal its limitations. What we see is actually a group of powerless men. So it seemed logical to me to keep the focus on men.

VJ: There are currently 300,000 tons of high-level waste worldwide and more is being produced every day. Regardless of whether we’re for or against atomic energy, we can’t deny the fact that this waste exists. What’s your outlook on this?

EH: In the film, the Swedish expert Johan Swahn says that above all we have to make sure we don’t do anything stupid. So if we’re not sure – and until now no one has come up with a safe concept – we shouldn’t do anything that can’t be reversed and dispose of the waste in a way that means it’s no longer accessible. I share his view. My message is: we have to address these issues. Each person has to do this in their own way and with the means available to them. We need people to address these issues, we need transparency and it’s important to talk about this topic with a certain openness. This means we have to create a more open discussion to be able to – and “solve” is the wrong word here – to make any progress at all with this problem.

VJ: You said that it’s important for people to admit their insecurities.

EH: I think that’s the sign of a strong society. If you believe in democracy or in an open society, then this is the only way. Nuclear waste is just one example of many. There are a lot more skeletons in the closet. How we treat our resources, for example. How we will have frittered away our raw materials in two to three generations, what we’re extracting from the depths of the earth and what impact this has and will have on our lives. There are people investigating climate issues who are coming to devastating conclusions. Ultimately, we have to ask ourselves: do we have a vision for the future at all? I believe that this is the underlying question. What do we actually believe in?

VJ: The film depicts a certain helplessness on the part of the scientists. No matter what continent, they all hit the same obstacles.

EH: We travelled around the world and visited the places with the most serious projects. We left Fin- land out because they follow the same approach as in Sweden: They’re drilling into the granite bed- rock – in Scandinavia there is only granite – and water flows through this rock. This means that they have to use copper canisters. Not because of the radiation, but to stop the water from coming into contact with the fuel. But we don’t know how long the copper casing will stay airtight.

VJ: How are we planning to find this out?

EH: I don’t know. In the film, the Chinese scientist Ju Wang says: “We’ve conducted experiments over very short periods of time to forecast what would happen over very long periods.” Ju Wang is the only person in the film to point out that we are dealing with millions and not hundreds of thousands of years. A Chinese person highlights this problem. This is possibly because he is a geologist who doesn’t have his roots in the nuclear power industry and is dedicated to properly addressing these issues.

VJ: What kind of time periods are we talking about then?

EH: The radioactive decay of radionuclides is calculated in half-lives. After one half-life, the radioacti- vity is only half of the initial value, after two half-lives, a quarter, and so on. The half-life of plutonium is 24,000 years. It remains dangerous for many times this period. Highly radioactive nuclear waste from nuclear power plants is always a cocktail of different waste materials, whose half-lives could span many millions of years. On top of this, we have chemical reactions, which are hard to predict. There’s no way to be completely sure about what will happen. For example, in Hanford in Washington State, liquid waste is stored in countless steel barrels which are corroding and leaking and no one knows exactly what they contain and what is going on inside. The chemical cocktail is seeping into the groundwater, into the Columbia River, which flows through the whole of Washington State going as far as the border to Oregon and finally into the sea.

VJ: Is there a positive message in the midst of all this helplessness and powerlessness?

EH: The positive message is: we have to address this problem. We need structures, we need transpa- rency. We need young people to get involved. After all, a final repository can’t be realised overnight. This demands an incredible level of expertise, so we need people to dedicate themselves to this issue: geologists, scientists and non-partisan politicians, who question the information provided by resear- chers, and a society that keeps an eye on these people.

VJ: So the positive message is the impetus created by this challenge? The impetus to take decisive action and confront this situation, to stay curious and open-minded and to adopt a constructive ap- proach?

EH: Yes, so that we say: wow, that’s a crazy situation we have to face there. What a challenge!

VJ: Did you find the safest place on earth?

EH: It sounds like the title of a Jules Verne novel. It holds a promise. It is a promise that we’re constantly making as a society without knowing if we can actually keep it. Ju Wang touches on it in the film when he says: “Don’t say: the safest place on earth. Say: one of the safest places.”

VJ: This interview has made me see the title in another light: the safest place on earth is the space within a civil society where it addresses these topics. Not somewhere deep down in the earth, but in parliament or in a public discussion because these things are dynamic and also last longer than copper.

EH: Yes. That means we have to keep the lines of communication open – we can’t just blindly trust those in charge. We have to maintain a critical and lively dialogue.

VJ: You appear in the film. Why did you opt for this approach?

EH: I realised that I couldn’t leave the protagonists on their own in front of the camera. After all, I didn’t want to present these people, I wanted to experience them “live” with all their contradictions. It also demonstrates my goal to communicate with the people involved on a level playing field. My voiceover is an extension of this. After I’d decided to narrate my film from this perspective, I had no choice but to take this approach. I wanted to create a contrast between something vast and something small.

VJ: Do you mean between the vast topic of atomic energy and an ordinary person?

EH: Yes. That’s why it was also important for me to ask direct and simple questions in the film, to show what happens when you approach such a huge topic with a simple question. That’s all the film does, really: it looks for answers to simple questions and I overdo it a little to get my point across.


>>Learn more

The Gesellschaft für Nuklear Service, GNS, operates the storage facility for fuel elements in Gorleben as well as numerous other temporary storage sites for spent fuel and radioactive waste in Germany and other countries. It is owned by a number of nuclear power plant operators in Germany. The glossary on its website contains the most important technical terms in the area of nuclear waste disposal and repositories.

The Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility was co-founded by Canadian mathematician and physicist Gordon Edwards in 1978. It is dedicated to researching and shedding light on issues related to nuclear energy, in particular radioactive waste.

The US State of Nevada has been affected by numerous nuclear-related programmes, in particular the Nevada Test Site (today known as the Nevada National Security Site), where the US carried out over 100 above-ground and 1,000 subterranean atomic bomb tests (a moratorium was imposed in 1992). The State of Nevada does not operate any nuclear power plants and has so far managed to prevent the construction of a national high-level nuclear waste repository on the edge of the Nevada National Security Site in Yucca Mountain. The website of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects is the most up-to-date source of information on nuclear-related issues across the globe and is updated on a daily basis.

The World Information Service on Energy – WISE is an international anti-nuclear network with offices in Amsterdam, Argentina, Austria, the Czech Republic, India, Japan, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa and Ukraine. WISE owns the copyright to the anti-nuclear smiling sun logo and publishes an update on events and accidents in the nuclear energy industry every fortnight.

“Rock solid” is a scientific review commissioned by Greenpeace International. It deconstructs the myth that scientists have resolved the issue of how to dispose of high-level radioactive nuclear waste.

Based on Native American traditions, Joanna Macy developed the concept of nuclear guardianship: according to this ethic, the only reliable way to approach the nuclear problem is to closely monitor high-level radioactive nuclear waste over many generations. She believes that it is essential to pass on knowledge of how to deal with this waste from one generation to the next over many thousands of years.

The driving force behind the foundation of the International Atomic Energy Agency was the belief that the advent of nuclear energy for civilian purposes would be a blessing for humanity and could bring an end to its use in military programmes. The IAEO does not have the power to dictate what its member countries should do with high-level radioactive waste. It is only able to make recommendations.

The international environmental organisation Greenpeace has compiled a systematic overview of the dangers of nuclear waste.

The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, BfS, is responsible for protecting the population from ionising and non-ionising radiation. It is tasked with constructing repositories with the aim of ensuring the safety of the population in the long term. The office’s website provides information on the activities of other European countries in this area.

All 14 European countries that use nuclear energy are faced with the task of finding a solution to the problem of locating and constructing final repositories by 2015. This represents a major challenge for EU countries.

The Swiss Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Nagra, is funded by the Swiss nuclear energy industry. It was initially responsible for resolving the problem of nuclear waste, but failed in this task. Its official role today involves providing the know-how to make this possible.

The Swiss Federal Office of Energy is now responsible for coordinating the search for repository sites in Switzerland and is faced with the urgent challenge of solving the nuclear waste problem.

Swiss research projects have focussed on two possible sites for final repositories. One project began in 1978 investigating granite rock in Grimsel. However, this rock is no longer viewed as suitable for creating final repositories in Switzerland. As a result, scientists are now also conducting research on clay in Mont Terri. Many believe that the rock holds great potential for the long-term containment of radioactive waste.

The left-leaning Swiss newspaper Wochenzeitung has provided a critical voice on nuclear policy and the search for final repositories for many decades.

The Swiss Energy Foundation has kept a critical eye on the search for final repositories in Switzerland since the end of the 1970s.

Numerous civic movements have tirelessly campaigned against plans for repositories in Switzerland.

In 2008 the Minister for the Environment in the governing coalition of the Social Democratic Party and The Greens convened the Final Repository Symposium in Berlin. It aimed to bring together the nuclear power industry and the anti-nuclear movement in an attempt to resolve the deadlock. It failed to achieve this goal.

In 2013 environmental associations in Germany organised the Nuclear Waste Conference in Kassel. Its starting point was a comprehensive review of the nuclear waste situation in Germany. The conference aimed to stimulate a lively debate on how to deal with nuclear waste in the future.

The Lüchow-Dannenberg Citizens’ Initiative has fought against the German government’s plans ever since Gorleben was designated a “nuclear disposal centre” in March 1977. Over the course of their campaign they have gained extensive knowledge in this field.

BUND is the German branch of the environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, which has offices in 76 countries and over two million members and supporters. In Switzerland, the organisation is called Pro Natura and in Austria, Global 2000. It takes a critical stance on the use of nuclear power.

Atomhaftpflicht (Nuclear Liability) is a cross-party initiative in Germany. It aims to make it mandatory for nuclear power plant operators to assume full liability for German nuclear plants and stop the industry shifting responsibility on to society.

In 2003 the British government appointed the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management, CORWM, to establish what should be done in the long term with the UK’s high-level radioactive waste which is mainly stored in Sellafield by the Irish Sea.

The Nuclear Waste Advisory Associates are a group of scientists in the UK who take a critical stance to the nuclear energy industry. Their goal is to minimise the risks posed by radioactive waste now and in the future.

Britain’s Toxic Coast provides information from a critical viewpoint on the environmental damage that has been caused by the reprocessing plant in Sellafield over many decades.

Following the collapse of the project to construct a final repository in Yucca Mountain, President Obama appointed the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future 2010. The commission was tasked with preparing a report on the disposal of nuclear waste and the future of the USA’s nuclear industry. The final report was submitted in January 2012.

Although the USA has no strategy whatsoever for the disposal of the high-level radioactive waste created by the 104 nuclear power plants it currently operates, it has joined forces with numerous countries – including Switzerland – to map out the future of nuclear energy.

NUMO, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan has been searching for a volunteer community to host a high-level radioactive repository for over ten years, but has so far been unsuccessful.

The Citizen’s Nuclear Information Centre – CNIC is a Japanese anti-nuclear scientific information centre, which was campaigning for a nuclear-free world long before the Fukushima disaster.

In 2011 the Swedish nuclear waste disposal organisation SKB submitted its plans to construct a high-level radioactive waste repository to the authorities. The plans are currently under review.

MKG is an NGO which has critically monitored the Swedish repository programme and also questioned plans to construct a high-level repository in Finland.


Crew & Cast

Cast: Charles McCombie; Switzerland: Marcos Buser; UK: Gregg Butler, Neil Patterson, Bruce McKirdy; USA: Russel Jim, Steve Frishman, Ian Zabarte, David Pentz, Wendell Weart, Bob Forrest; Germany: Wolfgang Ehmke; Sweden: Jacob Spangenberg, Marie Berggren, Johan Swahn; China: Ju Wang, Ba Gen Na

Written & directed by: Edgar Hagen

Director of photography: Peter Indergand

Sound: Jean-Pierre Gerth

Editing: Paul-Michael Sedlacek, Edgar Hagen

Original Music: Tomek Kolczynski

Dramaturgy: Hercli Bundi

Producer: Hercli Bundi

Associate Producer: Vadim Jendreyko

Production Manager: Peter Zwierko

Marketing & Outreach: Susanne Guggenberger

Animation: Bruno Conti

Online/DCP: Andromeda, Zurich

Direction voice-over: Daniel Howald

Sounddesign and premix: Daniel Almada

Mixing: Dominik Avenwedde

Sound Studio: Basis Berlin

Production: Mira Film GmbH

in Co-production with: Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen / SRG SSR

Editor SRF: Urs Augsburger

Financially supported by: Bundesamt für Kultur, Eidgenössisches Departement des Innern Schweiz, Zürcher Filmstiftugn, Fachausschuss Audiovision und Multimedia der Kantone Basel-Stadt und Basel-Landschaft, Swisslos-Fonds dese Kantons Aargau, George Foundation, Ernst Gähner Stiftung, Gerold und Niklaus Schnitter-Fonds für Technikgeschichte an der ETH Zürich, Succès Cinéma, Succès Passage Antenne, MEDIA Programme of the European Union



Charles McCombie, 68, is a nuclear physicist and staunch advocate of nuclear energy. For the last 35 years, he has worked together with international specialists across the world to locate sites for high-level nuclear waste repositories. He believes that the commercial use of atomic energy essential for peace and prosperity.
From 1978 to 1999 he developed the high-level waste disposal programme for the Swiss Cooperative for the Disposal of Radioactive Waste, Nagra in Switzerland. In the mid-nineties, he spent eight years in the nuclear waste repository commission of the American National Academy of Sciences. As Executive Director of the Swiss organisation Arius, Association for Regional and International Underground Storage based in Baden, he has launched multi-national repository projects in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America and has advised national repository programmes, such as the Japanese repository programme of NUMO, the Nuclear Waste Management Organization of Japan for the last ten years.

Charles McCombie welcomes an open dialogue with his critics and enables the film to gain access to sealed-off locations. The experience he has gathered over many decades sums up the search for a final repository, which has been unsuccessful to date. His journey highlights problems that have so far prevented the construction of a high-level repository anywhere in the world. Originally from Scotland, Charles McCombie has lived with his family in Switzerland for 40 years. The area on his doorstep in Bözberg – a stone’s throw from the German border – is currently under review as a potential site for a nuclear waste repository.

Marcos Buser, geologist, is Charles McCombie’s fiercest opponent in Switzerland. He works as an independent researcher into nuclear waste repositories. Since the 1980s he has publicly criticised the scientific and social discrepancies of the repository strategies pursued by McCombie over the 20 years he worked for the Swiss radioactive waste disposal organisation, Nagra. He was a member of the national nuclear supervisory body until 2012. In 2012 he left the Federal Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) in protest. As a staunch critic of atomic energy, he does not oppose plans to create repositories. He would, however, like to see them freed of the economic constraints imposed by the nuclear power industry.

Gregg Butler, ex-CEO of British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL), the former operator of the UK’s nuclear power plants, and director of the reprocessing plant in Sellafield. In this role, he was involved early on in the search for repositories in the UK, which was terminated in 1997. He worked with Charles McCombie to develop the world’s first international radioactive waste repository in Australia. These plans collapsed in 1998 as a result of opposition from society. Today he works with Charles McCombie, advising the director of the British waste repository programme.

Neil Patterson, captain of the Pacific Nuclear Transport Limited, PNTL. He is in charge of shipping back high-level waste to countries that have sent their spent fuel to Sellafield in the UK for reprocessing.

Russell Jim, Director of the office for environmental restoration of the Indian Yakama Nation in Washington State, USA. His people’s experience of dealing with radioactive contamination dates back further than any other community’s. Their land is home to the Hanford Site, where plutonium was produced for the first atomic bombs from 1943 onwards. The site was designated for the construction of the world’s first radioactive waste repository. It would have become an exclusion zone for 250,000 years. Geological shortcomings and the opposition of the Yakama people and environmental campaigners prevented the realisation of the planned repository.

Steve Frishman is a technical adviser to the state government of Nevada and has campaigned against the Yucca Mountain Project since 1987. The project planned to deposit high-level nuclear waste from over 100 American nuclear power plants inside Yucca Mountain in the State of Nevada. President Obama terminated the development of the Yucca Mountain site in 2010. Steve Frishman is not unlike David fighting against Goliath – taking on 2,000 scientists working for the Department of Energy and the nuclear power industry.

Ian Zabarte, foreign minister for the Western Shoshone. Traditionally, they are the owners of Yucca Mountain, which lies on the edge of the former atomic bomb Nevada Test Site. In the 1950s the USA conducted tests on 119 atomic bombs above ground and 1,000 atomic bombs below ground until testing was terminated in 1992. He is campaigning against the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository on behalf of his people and working to ensure that it is not re-designated as a suitable site following the provisional termination of development plans.

David Pentz, US geologist and entrepreneur, initiated the Pangea Project, which searched the globe for the simplest and least expensive site for a nuclear waste repository. As partners in the Pangea Project, Charles McCombie and Gregg Butler channelled British and Swiss funding into the undertaking. Their goal was to bring at least 20 percent of the world’s high-level nuclear waste to Australia. The project was discontinued in 1998 as a result of opposition in Australia, but David Pentz is still obsessed with his idea to this day.

Wolfgang Ehmke, spokesperson for the Lüchow-Dannenberg citizen’s initiative in Lower Saxony, Germany. He has successfully campaigned against constructing a high-level nuclear repository in Gorleben for the last 35 years. Environmental campaigners consider the site to be completely unsuitable due to presence of gas and water deep below the ground. He views the massive civil protests against the Castor transports to Gorleben as a "symbol of the failed nuclear waste policy”.

Wendell Weart, geophysicist and manager of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, WIPP, the world’s first deep geological repository. It is located in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and was opened for the disposal of low-level transuranic nuclear waste in 1999. Following the failure of the Yucca Mountain Project, discussions are underway in the USA about depositing all of America’s high-level nuclear waste in Carlsbad.

Bob Forrest, former mayor of Carlsbad, New Mexico. He made it possible for Wendell Weart to construct the WIPP. In return, his community received generous financial compensation. He views the failure of the Yucca Mountain Project as a godsend for Carlsbad and would also like his community to become a repository for all of the USA’s high-level radioactive nuclear waste.

Jacob Spangenberg, mayor of the community of Östhammar, Sweden, home to Forsmark nuclear power plant. The community volunteered to host a high-level nuclear repository. In 2011, the nuclear waste disposal organisation SKB submitted an application to build a high-level repository in Östhammar to the authorities. If independent experts confirm that the waste can be stored safely for 100,000 years, Östhammar could become the world’s first high-level nuclear waste repository site.

Johan Swahn, Director of the Swedish NGO Office for Nuclear Waste Review, MKG. He is a critic of the Swedish approach to high-level nuclear waste disposal, which it has followed for over 35 years. The approach involves depositing high-level nuclear waste encased in copper canisters 500 metres below the ground in wet granite rock.

Ju Wang, Head of the High-Level Waste Disposal Programme of the People’s Republic of China. He is searching for a suitable site in the Gobi Desert to construct a repository for China’s high-level nuclear waste. China plans to commission 40 reactors by 2020 and start constructing a further 18. At the proposed site, some 20 boreholes have been drilled to investigate the suitability of the ground.

Ba Gen Na, a nomad in the Chinese Gansu Province in the Gobi Desert. His herd of camels grazes on the proposed repository site, which Ju Wang and his team are currently testing to establish its suitability. Ben Gen Na is worried that his livelihood is at risk: Chinese politicians and scientists believe that this is the safest place for their planned high-level nuclear waste repository.